Palm Sunday, 3/28/2021

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Due to a small glitch, we are unable to post Rev. Clarence’s homily for Palm Sunday today. We hope to post it later.

In the meantime, please enjoy last year’s Palm Sunday sermon, below. The readings for today are, however, as follows: Psalm 31:9–16; Isaiah 50:4–9a; Philippians 2:5–11; Mark 14:1–15:47

And, if you so choose, you may find a virtual, on-line Palm Sunday service at the following links:

From Rev. Clarence on Palm Sunday5 April 2020 A
Psalm 31:9 – 16; Isaiah 50:4 – 9a; Philippians 2:5 – 11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

“After a little while some of the bystanders came up to him and said to Peter, ‘Certainly, you are also one of them, for your accent betrays him.’” Matt. 26:73

Today is Palm Sunday. And how often have we heard at Mass, at the celebration of Holy Eucharist, the preacher of the day intone the words: ‘Dear People of God, today, we enter Holy Week, the holiest of weeks for people of faith’ and, continuing, ‘I bid you, therefore, think on the sacrifice which our Lord Jesus Christ took upon himself for our sins’? How often have we, hearing those words, nodded silently our affirmation because we know already the bitter sacrifice [that] was and is none other Christ’s crucifixion? [That w]e know already, as well, the outcome [that] is Easter Day, the Day of the Resurrection? I put to you those questions not as a theoretical introduction or to hide 21st century sarcasm. Rather, I raise them because, even as we anticipate on this Palm Sunday 2020 the joyous celebration in remembrance of Christ’s Resurrection, our hearts are indeed heavy. We are not, if we are honest, in the mood to celebrate, isolated as we are from one another. But celebrate we shall, [albeit] with less pomp and circumstance which we have attached to the unique occurrence in the history of humankind.

Indeed, our mood today, Palm Sunday 2020, is akin to that of the biblical Hebrews of ancient times. As they languished in captivity in ancient Babylon, their masters and overseers desired for their own mirth that the Hebrew should sing songs of Zion. The response of those living under the cloud of captivity and humiliation has been recorded for us in Psalm 137:
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs,And our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

That was not the time for dancing and merry-making, but of deep reflection on how it came about that they were forced into involuntary servitude. Yet, hope remained.

It is perplexing, overwhelming even, to watch in mind’s eye the adoring crowd, with palm branches waving, abandon so swiftly their celebratory, jubilant ‘Hosannas to the Son of David’ and become the mob that cried for the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel of Matthew walks us through that solemn, dark, time, shying not away in the process of detailing the naked description of all. Removed, even by thousands of years, from the actual occurrence of celebration to rejection to execution has an impact on one. And for us, in our liturgical observances of this event in Holy Week 2020, separated as we are from one another, the weight of those events lies all the more heavily on our minds.

This year, 2020, the additional weight of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty caused by a medical pandemic, the likes of which no one alive today has before witnessed, will place a damper on our celebrations. Should/can a preacher do anything other than throw up his or her hands? Is there a chance that one might find hope in any of the accounts [that] we read and hear today and throughout this week? Who needs to be reminded of the darkness of those ancient days in these our days, days fraught with uncertainty, days when we cast a suspicious eye not only to the stranger in our midst, but must be wary even of those with whom we have enjoyed commerce for months, years, if not decades?

To this latter question, I have not THE definitive answer, but an answer. And my answer is not one brought about because we know already the ending of the story, which is positive and will be voiced on Easter Day with our “Halleluias.”

If one should, for even just a brief moment, step outside our traditional reading and our present dislocation, it becomes apparent that the Passion Lectionary according to Matthew, despite its darkness, gives us hope, and that hope is grounded in the fact that, in essence, the whole wide world was assembled on that eve when Jesus was judged and handed over to Pontius Pilate for further action. The whole wide world was represented in those who had firsthand knowledge of events preceding the Crucifixion, such that the story of God’s redemptive stroke in human history did not get lost or assigned to a time capsule for future discovery. Folks, not unlike you and me, were there as active participants who could and, in all likelihood because of human nature, would in their homes, in the workplace, in the pubs in the villages, give credence to a tale that has endured unto our own day. And so shall it be for future generations which shall read how we as local, national and global communities, despite our mandate of “social distancing,” embraced each other in hope and scientific and medical care came together eventually to overcome this pandemic. That humankind was able to lay aside superficial differences, in order to overcome an adversity shared by all—that is, minimally, cause to be joyful and hopeful.

However, I would ask that we focus our thoughts again on the Gospel of Matthew. If one were to follow the pattern set by the film industry in the credit section of a film, the times when most moviegoers are already making their way to the exit, we would today have a long list of characters and be confounded by the dilemma of how to acknowledge them. Should we list them alphabetically, by order of appearance, or in order of role prominence? How should the credits acknowledge the walk-ons? Are they important enough to merit being listed? Should other fillers-in be listed simply as “the crowd, unnamed bystanders? Should there be an “A” list and a “B” list? Are there crossovers from one list to the other? The film’s credits or Playbill from Matthew’s gospel acknowledge:
Jesus of Nazareth
Judas Iscariot
Peter, also called Simon
The Chief Priests, scribes and Elders of the Temple in Jerusalem
Caiaphas the High Priest
Two maids
Some of the bystanders in the courtyard
Pontius Pilate, the Governor
Joseph of Arimathea

Twelve Disciples
The crowd from the chief priests and elders of the people
A slave/servant of the High Priest
Unnamed false witnesses
Guards to the High Priest
Two robbers
Many women, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of James and John, sons of Zebedee
Curiosity seekers

Without announcing it with a judge’s gavel or a megaphone, Matthew’s gospel in this bleakest of moments speaks of hope, and it does so using the most despicable and repugnant action which one could imagine. It is not the betrayal of Jesus at the hand of Judas Iscariot. Rather, it is the denial by Peter, also called Simon. It is Peter, a trusted confidant of God’s Messiah, who gives us that glimmer of hope for all humankind, and for all times. In denying Jesus, Peter denied that for which Jesus came into the world. Peter, also called Simon, is found out; he is outed. His bluster is exposed. And Peter, also called Simon, whose ego propelled him forward as the leader of The Twelve almost got away with his false bravado. He was, after all, a man’s man. He had followed a demanding, tough, often dangerous trade prior to his induction into the group of twelve. He was a fisherman. His family depended on him. People from the surrounding area depended on him for food. Insofar then, he was a pillar of society. Why should one not have believed him when he claimed not to know the man whose message had so upturned his own life? Hoping to blend in and not bring the same judgment upon his own head, Peter almost succeeded with his denials. But it was a little thing, something almost as close to him as his DNA, [that] gave him away: his Galilean accent. In a moment of intense stress, he reverted to a pattern of speech that he had, perhaps, worked so hard to disguise or eliminate.

I assign no blame to Peter, for he reminds me so much of traits [that] we all harbor within ourselves. For there have been times when, in the interest of self-preservation and to keep the peace, we have denied the mandate given by the Nazarene who had said to Peter, also called Simon, and says to us, that if we believed in him and followed him, he would make us fishers of men. Why do I acclaim hope from the behavior of Peter, also called Simon? The answer is a simple one: In his denial, Peter laid bare to himself and to those of us who have followed, his humanness. He was not a god.

He repented himself of his betrayal, and the God of Creation found him after the Resurrection to be a vessel worthy to carry forward the Good News of God in Christ. With his tears of shame and remorse and his post-Resurrection allegiance to the Risen Christ, Peters gives evidence and hope to us as we deal with our own responses to non-medical pandemics of prior ages and even of our own day[–] the pandemics of forcing other human beings into involuntary servitude/slavery, of denying women and girls the rank [that] God gave them at Creation, of neglecting the mandate of providing safety for little children, of hoarding wealth to the detriment of the less fortunate. [All] evidence and hope that God is a forgiving God and remains active in The Creation.

And so it is that I repeat a question made at the very beginning of my reflections. My question was: Who needs to be reminded of the darkness of those ancient days in these our days, days fraught with uncertainty, days when we cast a suspicious eye not only on the stranger in our midst, but must be wary even of those with whom we have enjoyed commerce for months, years, if not decades? I deny not for one second that our daily lives have been upturned. And, no, we neither need nor desire the challenge of the uncertainty [that] lies before us. In both instances, we see our humanity [that] now, as then with Peter, also called Simon, desires and requires the intervention of a redeeming God. Our faith assures us, however, [that] if God was able to reclaim Peter, also called Simon, who denied the God’s Messiah, [then] surely that same God will not forsake us in our moment of need. Hope abounds because God continues to move the hearts and minds of those like Peter, as well as those curious bystanders who will set forth again their efforts to bring order to the chaos and sicknesses of our time. It is to a redeeming God that we pray. AMEN

Clarence E. Butler